Lauda: The Untold Story
DVD, 90 minutes
© 2015 Hannes Schalle, distributed by Defiant Screen Entertainment

Formula 1 fans have been spoiled with a recent influx of motorsport films and documentaries in recent years. We’ve enjoyed the magnificent and Oscar-worthy Senna, Ron Howard’s visually stunning portrayal of the Hunta-Lauda rivalry in Rush, the remastered Stanley Kubrick-made documentary Weekend of a Champion about Jackie Stewart, and the insightful history of Formula 1’s road to improved driver safety in 1: Life on the Limit.

The latest addition to the list is Austrian film-maker Hannes M. Schalle’s documentary Lauda: The Untold Story. The 90-minute documentary takes a closer look at the three-time World Champion’s dreadful crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix and the Nürburgring Nordschleife, and subsequently how it has shaped the sport’s approach to improved safety standards.

Here is a trailer of Lauda: The Untold Story…

The film covers much of the same ground as Ron Howard’s Rush, which had a number of accusations about the accuracy of its storyline despite a superb portrayal by the actor Daniel Brühl. In Lauda’s case, however, it is the use of real-life footage – some of it never previously seen – and reflective interviews with a number of Lauda’s contemporaries that allow it to provide a significant point of difference to fans of the 2013 feature film.

Schalle takes a slightly unusual approach of splitting the documentary into five distinct chapters. The first opens with the shocking crash at the Nordschleife, preceding the second chapter which focuses on Lauda’s rise from a being a humble burger to a global superstar who clinched the 1975 World Championship title.

The third chapter – the film’s most interesting segment – examined the immediate aftermath of the accident and Lauda’s recovery, through to his amazing comeback at Monza just 33 days later. This swells with previously-unseen footage that is sure to grab the attention of even the most knowledgeable of Formula 1 fans, and Lauda’s comments about his treatment by the press were particularly compelling.

Missing from this segment is what happened after: the climactic season finale at Mt Fuji where Lauda withdrew from the race after just one lap (handing the title to James Hunt), as well as his rise to two further World Championships before retiring in 1985 and going on to become a successful airline magnate and, today, a director on the Mercedes Formula 1 team. That is packaged into the documentary’s final chapter, but at just five minutes long before the final credits roll, it feels like a bit of an afterthought.

The fourth chapter – which comprises almost half of the film’s 90-minute duration – is spent somewhat tailgating the concept of 1: Life on the Limit and its theme of how the sport has improved driver safety. The initial investigations of early 20th century motorsport are interesting, but the film rapidly loses its way with a number of Mercedes-produced segments that explain the advents of modern Formula 1 machinery.

These vignettes are clearly made as ‘filler’ pieces for TV broadcasters to use in pre-race build-ups and, while trying to be relevant, feel clearly out of place in contrast to the rest of the film. This feels like a major opportunity missed: given Lauda’s connections at Mercedes and that he is the subject of the film, there was a great opportunity to custom-produce these features with Lauda as the central focus. It feels like the focus of the film – Niki Lauda himself – got lost in this stage of the film.

Schalle and his team deserve enormous credit for the breadth and depth of source material they summoned in focusing on the lead-up to and immediate aftermath of Lauda’s accident, but the final package lacks the polish needed to make this a ‘must watch’ documentary for your more casual Formula 1 fans.

Lauda: The Untold Story is currently available at major DVD resellers. Our review copy was kindly provided to us by Defiant Screen Entertainment Australia.

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.